1. Don’t wait with your first job until you get a degree
In many cases you don’t need a degree to start a career. There are jobs that require formal education, but my point is a bit different and twofold. Firstly: You need to learn how to work. Sole skill of working is very different from the skill of learning and getting good grades at school. Sooner you gain experience in setting of a real workplace, the better you will understand which skills to pursue. You also will have a real, more tangible idea of what is it like to work, and how being professional differs from being good at school. Secondly: As I mentioned there are still jobs with formal requirements, but even in these cases the real learning will start only when you get on with the work.
2. Your first job should not be about money, but still it also shouldn’t be done for free
You need experience. As a freshman on marketplace often times you are not as productive as more experienced colleagues. Being able to start early, gain practical knowledge, be in position to network can be a value in itself. Yet, beware of spec work and working for free. Free work does not have tangible value to people interested – your input will be diminished unconsciously and you can be even ignored actively as if your lack of experience was an additional cost. It can be a complete waste of time and energy for everybody involved.
Spec work is an entirely different story, and should be considered case by case. Because legitimately, if you aren’t under non-disclosure agreements concerning the speculative work, it can boost your credibility on the market. Yet, be aware with risk and tendency that young creative workers can be exploited that way.
3. Master the art yourself
Approach your first job (and any job) as you would approach new subject or class. Google up what your position is all about. Check out for best practices. Get a book or course at Lynda.com or Treehouse if you can. You will be surprised that not many people in their roles are devoted to perfecting the craft. With little effort you can easily avoid misleading advice and easier build on your colleagues’ experience.
There is also other side. Many job descriptions and requirements contain this classic paragraph: “2-3 year experience” or towards senior positions “5-7 year experience”. As your spy I can assure you, that this is a misleading criterion. If position in question need that diverse set of skills, then it would be all about problem solving skills and ability to adapt. If not, then how much can you learn about any particular job, or how long can you learn it. If you don’t get best practices under your belt after two years on the same position, then you probably won’t get them after next 3 to 5. On top of that, how much of experience can you translate into the same position but to the different organization and setting? If potential employer really insist on that criterion, then she or he needs not experience but your network.
4. If you are interviewed for your first job, do not be afraid to ask about other opportunities if, for whatever reason, HR does not think you are the best fit for them
Almost all interviews end with a statement encouraging the person interviewed to ask own questions to recruiting team. As it is your potential first job and you seek for experience, you can genuinely ask: “If for whatever reason you conclude that I am not the best match for this position right now, could you possibly help me with pinpointing opportunities to gain experience needed?” People on “the other side” of the table are just like you – real people. There is a chance that they can help you out. Especially if you impressed them with positive attitude and lacked only on skills they particularly needed in that particular recruiting cycle.
5. Audit yourself. In the sense that not everyone have to work in the office or even further in IT or marketing departments.
There is a vast market for welders not to look into extremes. Salesmen are year after year in the top of the most paying positions. Do not be fixed on idea that everybody can live off blogging, or be a creative director, or entrepreneur. Most of times office jobs mean lousy work-life balance that welders can manage perfectly. There are jobs with 8 hour day, where leave it at workplace and have free mind to do whatever you please. Office jobs are often highly stressful so you can have real difficulty to truly appreciate leisure time.
Take seriously odds and ask yourself what you would rather do with limited time you have. It got all serious, but it is true that you are on the brink of one of the most important decisions in your life. Consequences can drag upon that sweet little sentimental and romantic thoughts about work and careers.
Dream big and devote to great risks now if you are prone to – there will be not greater time to do that. And take into account that people change their entire career paths on average 5 times in life, so little is constant. What I ask you to do is to make informed choice. Do research, weight the odds, and then go for it.